Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo.

February 2015

Lonely Planet says the freshest sushi in Tokyo is located in this famous largest fish market in the world. I suspect they may be right although I’m never going to prove it.

My first morning in town I dead reckoned south along a street I estimated from a paper map to be likely to run into the north side of the market (street names here being mainly rendered in Japanese characters). I approached an industrial-looking cluster of buildings, crossed the street, and walked dodging small electric trucks and forklifts into what turned out to be one absolutely massive structure.

The scope of this, the market itself, was hard to believe even having experienced the one in Guangzhou. I looked down multiple apparently endless rows of small merchants, each stacked with dozens of open Styrofoam containers packed with seafood. Obviously a very busy commercial  marketplace with lots of yelling, running around, moving of bulk product.

I eventually got directed using sign language to a series of green and white awnings along the side of one of the marketplace buildings, where I was mildly disturbed to see crowds of people obviously not intrinsic to the business of the market. Each of two rows stretching back from each of those awnings comprises a dozen small sushi-bar restaurants (maybe 15-20 seats each). For some reason three or four of them had a lineup of about 30 people, whereas several others had free seats. I scrutinized the prices to see if that was the reason; it wasn’t.

So I took a seat in one of the available ones and pointed to a plate of sushi on a big plastic card presented to me. 12-15 pieces arrived, three little identical rolls, a roe maki and several nigiri, and a piece of sweetish egg mix, I think. The fish on the nigiri couldn’t be fresher, including tuna, salmon, mackerel, prawn, and another white fish. The rolls I would say were unremarkable but pretty flawless.

This substantial breakfast was $26, approximately 10 times what I paid for breakfast in Hanoi, but certainly a few bites up the food chain from beef pho.

I asked the guy next to me, a Chinese who spoke English, and then a couple standing outside the restaurant when I left why there was such a lineup at some of these places and none at others. We all seemed to agree that the popular ones were probably raved about in local guidebooks. I wouldn’t mind trying what’s in there to see if I can discern any quality advantage, but no way am I standing in line for the better part of an hour.

Food 8.6, service 7.9, ambience 8.0, value 6.1.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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